EventToura: Putting Armenia on the Map and Promoting Small Businesses Active in the Tourism Sector

Within the scope of the covid-recovery grant scheme implemented by EU4B ITTD 30 tourism-related companies got the opportunity not only to be supported during the pandemic-caused crisis but also to put into use new ideas and solutions as a response to a challenging economic situation.

Civilnet spoke to Mary Badalyan, one of ITTD Covid-recovery grant scheme winners.

Promoting domestic tourism, uncovering Armenia for locals, finding small and cosy corners of our country including guesthouses, cafes and other businesses providing touristic services and helping them be noticed by tourists: To pursue this idea, EventToura, developed “Local Business Connect” initiative during the 2020 COVID 19 lockdown through the support of the EU4Bsusines “Innovative Tourism and Technology Development for Armenia” (ITTD) project.

Before the outbreak of COVID 19 pandemic, the company founded in 2017 was engaged in organizing festivals. The first and the largest festival organized was the “©Yerevan Wine Days”. According to the co-founder and CEO of EventToura, Mary Badalyan, later other festivals were organized using the same model, with activities rolled out primarily in the regions. “We believe that festivals and event tourism have an indirect impact on production and export. Tourists, arriving in Armenia see a wide range of the products, such as for instance beer, and it is necessary to note that within the frame of the festivals that we organize, 99 per cent of the products promoted are made in Armenia. So going back home and finding a product from Armenia, the gustatory memories, positive emotions experienced during the festival, will obviously make them a potential buyer”.

However, it was not possible to carry on with the same model focused on activities during the pandemic: large-scale public events were not allowed, and there was no clear understanding of how to organize online festivals.

“Companies, engaged in the field appeared on the verge of bankruptcy, and many went bust. We came to a decision that our five employees and the experience that we had gained were worth more than just the cost of salaries. To keep ourselves busy, we decided to have zoom discussions during our working hours and share ideas about the interesting undertakings that could be implemented after the pandemic or the things that could be done right then”, tells Mary Badalyan.

It was then, that the company decided to change its profile and launched the “Local Business Connect” project.

“There was around 1,500 small tourism relted businesses from Shirak, Lori and Tavush regions; we already had the database and so we started to develop our project. With weekly three-hour live broadcasts, we assisted small businesses to prepare their presentations. We taught them how to work with the camera, how to get engaged in online discussions, make photos for their businesses. We also set working hours for some businesses, since the owners of the guest houses were not always able to deal with such minor issues. The businesses had 15-minute presentations that were transformed into 7–8-minute videos. For all this we had the necessary capacities”, says the co-founder of EventToura. At the initial stage, fees were charged for the services delivered, until the EU4Business ITTD project announced a grant programme, within the scope of which, the innovative tourism was to be promoted in the Tavush, Shirak and Lori regions. “It was already clear to us that there were no more innovative solutions but those identified by us for helping small businesses in the regions. To our delight, we were qualified for the grant. We brought together all the potential participants in the regions. As a result, we had 12 online conferences, each lasting three or four hours. We included also training, engaging the best experts in the field to discuss sector-related issues”.

As Mary Badalyan describes they faced a number of challenges and constraints, including both technical and motivational which they overcame throughout the project. However, they did not lose motivation, carrying on with their work. Today, the company has resumed its original activities as they were planned before the grant. However, taking into consideration the positive feedback Mary Badalyan does not exclude the possibility to renew the focus on the Local Business Connect programme somewhen in the future.